Legend has it that when asked by a theologian what the living world could tell us about a creator, biologist J.B.S. Haldane remarked that, “If He exists the creator has an inordinate fondness for beetles.” In his writings, Haldane, who died in 1964, noted that there are 300,000 species of beetle and only 10,000 species of mammals.
Some doubt has been cast on the exact wording and context of this quote, but according to Wikipedia, Haldane’s friend, Kenneth Kermack, told Stephen Jay Gould that the actual quote was “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles”, elaborating that, “Haldane was making a theological point that God is most likely to take trouble over reproducing his own image, and his 400,000 attempts at the perfect beetle contrast with his slipshod creation of man.”
Whether it’s 300,000 or 400,000 species, some of these beetles are extraordinarily beautiful. Even 47 million years ago, they shone in glorious colors, according to a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. More pictures and an explanation of the science can be found in this story from wired.com.
The researchers told wired.com that the colors come not from pigments but from the interplay between different wavelengths of light with nanometer-sized physical structures. And despite their tiny size, these structures have been preserved as fossils, the original exoskeletons of the beetles replaced by minerals, allowing the researchers to approximate the original colors.